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Child Exploitation
03/31/2010

ICE agents help arrest 29 cyber criminals in Tampa area

Operation Broken Heart also rescues two children

TAMPA, Fla. - U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) officials joined Attorney General Bill McCollum and law enforcement officials from 14 other Tampa agencies today in announcing the results of a six-week cybercrime operation targeting online child predators in the Tampa Bay area.

The operation, dubbed "Operation Broken Heart," was a cooperative effort resulting in 29 arrests, including one registered sex offender. The operation was initiated and led by the Attorney General's Tampa CyberCrime Task Force.

"Today's announcement should serve as a reminder to predators that the Florida Attorney General, ICE and the law enforcement community in Florida are united in its effort to protect the most vulnerable segment of our society -- our children," said Susan McCormick, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Tampa. "Together, we will use every tool and authority under the law to ensure that predators are taken off our streets and are put behind bars where they belong."

During the operation, 45 search warrants were executed and 29 arrests were made; charges range from possession and distribution of child pornography to sexual battery. Some of the images collected from the defendants depicted children as young as infants. Two girls were also rescued during the operation after disclosing they were the subject of sexual abuse. Several investigations are still pending.

"We know that cybercrime knows no geographical boundaries, which is why it is essential that we work together to maximize our resources," said Attorney General McCollum. "This operation proved that when we work together, Florida's children benefit."

 "Our greatest challenge is to protect children, and our greatest satisfaction is when those who prey on the innocent are identified, prosecuted and prevented from ruining any more young lives," said Sheriff David Gee. "These predators hide in the shadow of anonymity on the Internet. Operation Broken Heart will shine the light of law enforcement on them and their vile and disgusting acts against the most innocent among us."

The official launch of "Operation Broken Heart" was Feb. 8 and the operation concluded last night with two arrests. The Attorney General's Office CyberCrime Unit and the 15 law enforcement agencies involved are all members of Central Florida Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC).

In addition to ICE agents at the Office of Investigations in Tampa, the other participating agencies included the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, the Sumter County Sheriff's Office, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office, the New Port Richey Police Department, the Clearwater Police Department, the Plant City Police Department, the St. Petersburg Police Department, the Kenneth City Police Department, the Bradenton Police Department, and the Sarasota Police Department.

A list of those arrested and preliminary charges is available online at http://www.myfloridalegal.com.